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That joyous eruption reverberating from Chukchansi Park you may have heard around 11 a.m. Wednesday morning was a crowd of 300-plus energetic local soccer players and fans cheering as executives from USL (United Soccer League) announced Fresno as the home of its newest professional team—the Fresno Football Club.
I knew the significance of the momentous occasion as I walked into the stadium behind a large Fire Squad Fresno group chanting repeatedly, “Oh when the squad goes marching in/ Oh when the squad goes marching in/ We’re going to bring the fire/ when the squad goes marching in!”
The troupe of Fresno Fuego fans hyped up the already-eager crowd composed of many Fuego, Freeze, and local children’s soccer league players and their families, as they all awaited the reveal of the new USL league’s name, colors, and crest. Many were dressed in uniform—jerseys of red and blue, high socks and cleats—as if they were ready to get out on the field for a championship game.
The passion emitted from the mass gathering of soccer fans was awe-inspiring. As the crest of blue and gold displaying the name “Fresno Football Club” was finally revealed, the uproar created was reminiscent of the triumphant moment Jozy Altidore scored a goal for the USA in last Sunday’s Gold Cup semi-final against Costa Rica. But instead of lifting their shirts, fans lifted their new Fresno Football Club scarves—a special gift from the USL for those in attendance.
The team colors are the same as those shown on the Fresno flag—light blue and gold—and the emblem’s golden symbol, an ash leaf, is representative of the word Fresno itself, which means ash tree in Spanish—who knew? In the background, crop rows represent the region’s rich agriculture.
Basically, the team’s crest is ours. The message can’t be missed: Fresno Football Club is Fresno’s team. It serves as a Fresno ambassador, full of the FresYes spirit.
Fresno the Right Town at the Right Time
Bringing professional level soccer to town, officials say, will not only elevate the sport throughout the Central Valley, but will be a boost to the city of Fresno.
An enthusiastic Mayor Lee Brand, who at one point in his remarks cheered “Viva Fuego!”, said the team will bolster downtown revitalization efforts.
“It’s a great day for the city of Fresno and for soccer fans throughout the entire Central Valley,” Brand said. “The rise and support of soccer in Fresno coincides with our revitalization. Whether it is Amazon or Ulta beauty bringing e-commerce centers or it’s the opening of Fulton Street, we’re getting national attention. Fresno is a city on the move. Attracting more jobs and civic amenities to our community is an essential part of elevating the profile as a vibrant and prosperous city.”
As Fresno’s love affair with soccer has grown over the last decade with the creation of the Fresno Fuego and Fresno Freeze teams, the USL has also seen growth of its own.
“Professional soccer continues to thrive across the country, with more fans and more communities getting to experience the passion and tribalism of our sport,” USL President Jake Edwards said. “That passion is reflected in our 2017 season where the USL has continued to break attendance records. This year, over 2 million fans will come into our buildings to watch USL games. We’ve got over 30 clubs now in the USL and growing. We’re building soccer-specific stadiums throughout the country. We’ve got world class players now joining our league and the USL is now delivering the thrill of professional soccer to more fans and more communities than ever before.”
The league is on the rise, as is Fresno. And it’s Fresno’s rise, in particular the rise of its soccer culture, that inspired USL to come to the city.
“Fresno is a strong and vibrant market full of passionate soccer fans,” Edwards continued. “We’ve seen that evidenced over the last few decades with international exhibition games and with the great success achieved by the Fresno Fuego and the Fresno Freeze. The Freeze and the Fuego have built such an incredible grassroots soccer culture here in the region and we’ve been watching for many years and, believe me, we’ve been taking notes…This is certainly a growing community. More millennials, more families and more businesses are calling Fresno their home, living here and thriving here. I feel certain that this professional team will aid in the mission to drive growth not just in the downtown area but throughout the region.”
Ray Beshoff—the man who made the professional soccer dream come true—was the lead investor in the team and serves as owner. Beshoff, who also co-owns the local Mercedes-Benz dealership, said he believes Fresno Football Club will be widely successful.
“The World Cup is coming next year and so is Fresno Football Club,” Beshoff said of the team. “I’ve been working on the deal for a couple of years now and I’m firmly and passionately of the belief that this is one of the best soccer markets in the country and I think as we go forward over the next couple of years, you’ll get to see the vision that we have.”
The Future of Soccer in Fresno is Up to the Fans
The Fresno Football Club’s first season will officially begin in March 2018 and for the initial seasons, the team will be playing on the Chukchansi Park field, which will be tweaked to accommodate pro level soccer. Fuego and Freeze will continue to use the stadium for their games as well and, effective Aug. 31, the Fresno Fuego team will be joining the Fresno Football Club and the two men’s teams will work together.
“I think it is a great avenue for the Fuego,” Beshoff said. “The players and recruiting of the Fuego will be enhanced by the fact that they do have a pro team and pro tactics and training to lean on.”
Frank Yallop, who has had a long career in soccer—or football, as they call it in his hometown in England—will serve as the Fresno team’s general manager. Yallop has played for England’s Premier League, the MLS (Major League Soccer) Tampa Bay Mutiny, and the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team. He has also served as an MLS coach for the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, and Chicago Fire and coached the Canadian Men’s National Team. He has even coached famous players like David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
“This is a new role for me but I’m very excited,” Yallop said. “Being a general manager, I can put my stamp on everything going on and make sure that it’s run correctly. I’ve always felt I would be great at that job. All I’ve known is playing and coaching, but right now seeing everyone out here, I’m excited.”
The future success of the Fresno Football Club depends on us—Fresno’s citizens, supporters and soccer fans—Yallop said. “The USL had a lot of choices and they chose Fresno, so we have to make sure we make them proud.”
So FresYes soccer fans, go forth and root for your new team. Go FFC!